Monday, July 31, 2023

BLOG TOUR - The Pre-Nup

 

DESCRIPTION:

She signed the papers. And now her life is in danger…

Then: I gaze at my new husband and smile. It’s our wedding day and I feel like the luckiest woman alive.

Lucas is perfect. He brings me coffee in the morning, flowers in the evening, and never leaves the room without a kiss.

So I try to ignore the niggling doubt in the back of my mind about the prenup he made me sign. Does he think I’m a gold digger?

I reassure myself that it doesn’t matter, because I know we’ll be together forever…

Now: Three years in, Lucas has changed. I don’t feel safe in my own house, and when I look at my husband, I don’t recognize the man I married.

And now I’m trapped in this house with a man I’m beginning to realize I never really knew at all—and I’m terrified I might not make it out alive…

An absolutely gripping psychological thriller. Impossible to put down and packed with whiplash-inducing twists, perfect for fans of The Couple Next DoorThe Silent Wife and The Marriage.

BUY LINK:
MY THOUGHTS:
 
Title:   The Pre-Nup 
Author:  Arianne Richmonde
Publisher:  Bookouture 
Genre:   Psychological Thriller 
Format:  Kindle ARC
No. of Pages:   352
Date of Publication:   July 27, 2023
My Rating:   5 Stars

When Ava married Lucas, she signed a pre-nup. This would protect his inheritance. As she was madly in love, she readily agreed. Ava felt Lucas was as committed to her as she was to him but a few doubts soon began weaving in. Suspicions grew. More than that, Ava was the victim of gaslighting. This continual process by Lucas was further complicated by the fact that Ava was now pregnant. 

Discovering the fact that Lucas is having an affair, Ava struggles with her desire to leave him. With no job and a baby on the way, knowing she will be left with nothing plagues Ava. Can she create a plan to balance the tables?

Lucas’s deceit knew no bounds and with the twists and turns in this story as Ava struggled to change things kept me riveted page after page. In some ways this book by Arianne Richmonde reminded me of the movie Gaslight with Charles Boyer and Ingrid Bergman. So much, in fact, that I rewatched the classic thriller immediately upon completing this book. I loved comparing this thrilling book to the movie and I will say that I was thoroughly entertained. 

Many thanks to Bookouture and to NetGalley for this ARC for review. This is my honest opinion.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Arianne Richmonde is the USA TODAY bestselling author of the psychological thrillers, THE WIFE'S HOUSE and THE NEWLYWEDS (published by Bookouture, Hachette UK). Her Pearl series has sold more than half a million copies worldwide. Her stories are always character-driven and full of unexpected twists and turns.

When not writing about the passions and fragilities of human nature, she loves to spend time with her husband and their animals, including a femme fatale Husky with one blue eye and one golden eye. Arianne's a chocoholic and sometimes sneaks off to sunny, exotic locations, all in the name of research.

Author Social Media Links:

For updates on new releases, sales and giveaways please sign up for her Newsletter by going to: https://bit.ly/2ZoRQVx

 

Or join her on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/AuthorArianneRichmonde/ or send her an email ariannerichmonde@gmail.com - she loves hearing from readers and will always reply.

 

Twitter: https://twitter.com/A_Richmonde


Sunday, July 30, 2023

BLOG TOUR - The Italian Escape Series



Title
:  The Rome Apartment 
Author:  Kerry Fisher
Publisher:  Bookouture
Genre:   Women's Fiction
Format:  Kindle ARC
No. of Pages:   245
Date of Publication:  July 28, 2023
My Rating:   5 Stars

DESCRIPTION:

As I stood on the terrace and gazed out over the most glorious view, he studied my face and said to me ‘Why do you look sad? No-one should be sad in Rome. We only have this one life, you know. Don’t waste it.’

Beth stands in the sunshine outside the magnificent wrought-iron gates of Villa Alba holding her suitcase. Only a few short months ago, she dropped her beloved only daughter off at college, holding back tears at the thought of an empty nest… clinging to the thought of the new chapter that she and her husband Joel could now begin together. But that same day, Joel dropped a bombshell. He thinks their marriage is stale, and wants a break; he says that Beth is no longer the same woman he fell in love with…

Searching for an escape, Beth spots an ad in a magazine for an apartment in Rome that is available for three months rental only to ‘an English woman of a certain age’. She reads on… 
Veronica, the 75-year-old owner, challenges her guests to rediscover themselves, find joy, and live life to the full – and there is no better place to do these things than in Rome, the most beautiful city in the world.

Ronnie sets Beth a list of tasks, forcing her to slow down and find beauty in every corner of the city: the sun on a stained glass window, a fragrant bunch of the freshest basil, a painting in a hidden courtyard. But her final task is the most challenging of all: to go out on a date with an unsuitable man.

But handsome and adventurous musician 
Rico, unsuitable in almost every way, may turn out to be just the right man to bring Beth back to life. With her break from Joel coming to an end, can Beth risk embracing the new life of exciting possibilities that Rome has opened up to her, even if it means losing everything?

Get swept away to the sunny streets of the most beautiful city in the world with this heartwarming novel about love and second chances. Perfect for fans of Faith Hogan, Elin Hilderbrand and Sheila O’Flanagan.

BUY LINK:

MY THOUGHTS:

Beth’s empty-nest syndrome did not turn out as she planned. While happy that her daughter is now in college, Beth had thoughts of a new chapter in her life with her husband Joel. However, his view is entirely different from hers. In short, Beth heads to Rome - alone. After finding an ad for a three-month apartment rental, Beth is intrigued. 

The apartment owner, septuagenarian Ronnie, does more than rent the apartment to Beth. She gives Beth tasks each day, and it doesn’t take Beth long to begin living life to the full. For years, Beth was the dutiful wife and responsible mother. She lost a bit of herself, and now has the opportunity to discover the woman inside. 

When Ronnie challenges Beth to have dinner with a man, a man she’d never met, this brings new light to Beth’s life. His name is Rico and after spending time with him, Beth’s heart begins to feel much lighter. 

What a lovely story. I enjoyed Beth, Ronnie and Ronnie’s friend Marina. These three women were wonderful characters. This book was a joy to read and I loved moving right on to book two, Secrets at the Rome Apartment. 

Many thanks to Bookouture and to NetGalley for this ARC for review. This is my honest opinion.


Title
:  Secrets at the Rome Apartment 
Author:  Kerry Fisher
Publisher:  Bookouture
Genre:   Women's Fiction
Format:  Kindle ARC
No. of Pages:   245
Date of Publication:  July 28, 2023
My Rating:   5 Stars

DESCRIPTION:

Everyone has something to hide. Back then, I was a young woman, without the imagination to know how it would all end, and how the terrible consequences of the choices I made would echo down the years…

75-year-old Ronnie has made it her mission to help women of a certain age rediscover themselves. The owner of a palazzo in Rome, she has left her troubled past behind and reinvented herself in the most beautiful city in the world. And now she helps other women to do the same. Renting out her spare apartment for three months at a time, Ronnie invites her guests to take on a series of challenges that will help them to embrace beauty and joy, to rediscover themselves and to live their lives to the full.

But Ronnie’s confident exterior hides heartbreak and closely-held secrets. Why did she leave England all those years ago and what was she running away from? How did a woman who helps others to fix their shattered lives become estranged from her very own daughter, Nadia, who has left Rome and moved to England to escape her?

As Ronnie welcomes her latest guest to the Rome apartment, Nadia appears unannounced on her doorstep – pregnant and alone. Ronnie is desperate for a chance to put things right and to be part of her precious grandchild’s life, but in order to fix her family, she will have to dig up secrets from her past that could risk destroying everything…

Get swept away to the sunny streets of the most beautiful city in the world with this heartwarming novel about love and second chances. Perfect for fans of Faith Hogan, Elin Hilderbrand and Sheila O’Flanagan.

BUY LINK:

MY THOUGHTS:

In the first book in this Italian Escape series, the story was focused on how 75-year-old Ronnie helped a woman named Beth to see life in a new light. In this story, this book also explores Ronnie’s past. We learn how Ronnie came to live in Rome. Also, Ronnie’s daughter Nadia is pregnant, and Ronnie longs for the chance to better her relationship with her daughter, and is very much looking forward to becoming a grandmother. Meanwhile her Rome apartment has a new guest. 

This powerful story explores the lives of these women. In fact, although less than 300 pages, this story is well packed. Quite readable, as it was interesting to s learn more about Ronnie, how she navigated her relationship with her daughter, and what her connection to her newest guest was. 

Then, factoring in the beautiful backdrop of the story and everything came together flawlessly. Kerry Fisher draws you in to her wonderful characters and it was great imagining myself in picturesque Rome with these wonderful people. 

Many thanks to Bookouture and to NetGalley for this ARC for review. This is my honest opinion.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Kerry Fisher is an 
internationally bestselling author of women's contemporary fiction, including The Woman I Was Before, The Silent Wife (USA Today bestseller) and Other People's Marriages, as well as a non-fiction memoir, Take My Hand. She was born in Peterborough, studied French and Italian at the University of Bath and spent many years living in Spain, Italy and France. After returning to England to work as a journalist, she eventually abandoned real life stories for the secrets of fictional families. She now lives in Surrey with her husband, with an intermittent empty nest as her two young adult children come and go.

http://www.kerryfisherauthor.com/
https://www.facebook.com/kerryfisherauthor
https://www.instagram.com/kerryfisherwrites/
https://twitter.com/KerryFSwayne

Saturday, July 29, 2023

BLOG TOUR - Lost Little Angels



DESCRIPTION:

She wakes suddenly, realizing with a panic that her darling baby daughter should have woken long before now. Racing to the pink-colored nursery, she lets out a deep cry as she opens the door. The crib is empty. Her little girl has vanished.

It’s after midnight when
 Detective Eve Bennet receives a distraught phone call from an unknown number. The voice at the other end begs her not to hang up—a baby has gone missing. But what the caller says next makes Eve’s heart race. “She isn’t the first. There are many, many more.”

Rushing to the missing girl’s home, Eve finds the house empty, and when she knocks on their neighbors’ doors, not a single person answers. Whoever reported the missing baby doesn’t want to be found…

Secrets are held tight in the small town of Hilldale and as an outsider, Eve knows that the only way to uncover the truth is to persuade someone to talk. She finally has a breakthrough when a young wife goes against her husband’s wishes and tells Eve it’s not just babies being taken—mothers are disappearing too.

The woman leaves Eve a hand drawn map leading her to an isolated trailer park. What she finds there shocks her to her core. But she hardly has time to think before she notices a lone figure watching her every move. She’s not alone.

Can Eve save herself in time to finally unmask the truth before more innocent children disappear forever?

Fans of Melinda Leigh, Kendra Elliot and Lisa Regan won’t be able to put down this utterly gripping crime thriller from a USA Today bestselling author.


BUY LINKS:
Amazon: https://geni.us/B0C3J4SJG9social
Apple: http://ow.ly/t7ol50NT55s
Kobo: http://ow.ly/RWN850NT51f
Google: http://ow.ly/NOUi50NT5cN

MY THOUGHTS:

Title:   Lost Little Angels
Author:  Holly S. Roberts
Series:   Detective Eve Bennet #2
Publisher:   Bookouture 
Genre:   Mystery/Thrillers 
Format:   Kindle ARC 
No. of Pages:   286
Date of Publication:   July 19, 2023
My Rating:   4 Stars

Detective Eve Bennet’s newest case is that of a missing baby. But, it is far more than that. This case really hits close to home for Eve, bringing her back in contact with a fundamentalist group that has ties with her disturbing past. As unpleasant as it is, Eve must deal with her evil stepbrother Aaron, and she definitely meets with roadblocks as she delves deeper into the case of the missing baby. 

Eve’s mother had escaped the polygamist group when she was a child and now she and her team have to delve deeply if they are to find out what happened to the missing baby. Getting people to talk is not easy. But Eve soldiers on. Although reminded of the dangers she faced in a previous investigation, including the involvement of her own family members, Eve never gives up. 

With tension set high right from the very start, this second book in the Eve Bennet story is just as good as the first, Only Girl Alive. Now I am more than eager to see what Eve will face next, and what will happen with her stepbrother Aaron. 

Many thanks to Bookouture and to NetGalley for this ARC for review. This is my honest opinion.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Holly Roberts began writing to alleviate stress in her day job, that of a homicide and sex crimes detective. Romance was her go to genre because she required a happy ending. She also touched on cozy mysteries and added six books to her forty book romance repertoire. Now that she’s retired and her mind at peace, she decided to delve into crime thrillers using her background and thirst for research to write the Eve Bennet series.

Holly has two movie/television options under her belt for her amazing life story. Part of the reason is Holly became a police officer at age 45 and led two high profile cases, one involving a serial killer. Now she enjoys the excitement of writing about crime while sitting at home with her two dogs, laptop, and a cup of hot tea close by.


Social Media

Thursday, July 27, 2023

BLOG TOUR - Mystery in the Highlands

  

DESCRIPTION:

When members of a choir start dropping dead in the Highlands, Maud McIntyre and her lady’s maid Daisy go undercover to discover the inharmonious culprit. But will they uncover the killer before another murder takes place?

Edinburgh, 1911: When Maud and Daisy receive a letter from Daisy’s cousin, Clara, sharing her fears that two sudden deaths in her local choir weren’t accidental, at first Daisy thinks her cousin is overreacting. But Maud’s detective senses tell her something is afoot, and so they make haste to the Highlands to investigate.

As soon as they arrive, Maud and Daisy go undercover in the choir to find potential suspects. But with one murder deemed a heart attack, and the other declared an unfortunate drowning, Maud and Daisy have their work cut out when it comes to persuading the local police that perhaps the choir isn’t as perfectly in tune as everyone thinks...

But finally they receive a clue in the form of an anonymous letter. Enclosed is a rhyme which they’re certain holds the key to the next murder…

With the clock ticking down to another death, they know they can’t miss a beat - but 
will Maud and Daisy solve the mysterious rhyming verse before another singer is silenced, or will this case lead to their own untimely swan song?

A gripping and unputdownable historical whodunnit, perfect for fans of the mysteries of Helena Dixon, Verity Bright, T.E. Kinsey and Catherine Coles.


You can sign up for all the best Bookouture deals you'll love at: http://ow.ly/Fkiz30lnzdo

MY THOUGHTS:
 
Title:   Murder in the Highlands
Author:  Lydia Travers
Series:  The Scottish Ladies’ Detective Agency #3
Publisher:  Bookouture    
Genre:   Cozy Mystery
Format Kindle ARC 
No. of Pages:  317
Date of Publication:   July 26, 2023
My Rating:   4 Stars

Maud McIntyre and Daisy, her former lady’s maid, now partner in their detective agency, have their newest case. Choir members are dying. No doubt it is a case of murder, and it is now up to Maud and Daisy to discover whoever is responsible.  

Daisy is asked by her cousin Clara to look into things because the choir in which she performs has had to people to die. Going undercover is nothing new to Maud and Daisy, and thus they are the choir’s newest members. They begin receiving a series of clues which contain rhymes and they know the clock is ticking before yet another murder takes place. 

What a fun jaunt with this third book of a very enjoyable series. I love both Maud and Daisy. Being women detectives in 1911, Edinburgh, is no easy feat. I love how they rise to the challenge time and again. I also love the underlying story that is written for what might happen for Maud down the line. I very much look forward to the fourth book in this series.

Many thanks to Bookouture and to NetGalley for this ARC for review. This is my honest opinion. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Lydia Travers was born in London.  She moved progressively north until settling with her husband in a village on the edge of the Scottish Highlands. She has raised children, bred dogs and kept chickens; and for as long as she can remember has written for pleasure. A former legal academic and practitioner with a PhD in criminology, she now runs self-catering holiday accommodation, sings in a local choir and is walked daily by the family dog.

Lydia also writes as Linda Tyler and her first novel under that name, Revenge of the Spanish Princess, won a 2018 Romance Writers of America competition for the beginning of an historical romance. Her second novel The Laird's Secret was Commended in the 2021 Scottish Association of Writers' Pitlochry Quaich competition for the beginning of a romantic novel. Mischief in Midlothian won the 2022 Scottish Association of Writers' Constable Silver Stag trophy. She has had a number of short stories published in magazines, journals and anthologies in the UK, the USA and Australia.


Sign up to be the first to hear about new releases from Lydia Travers here: https://www.bookouture.com/subscribe/lydia-travers

Wednesday, July 26, 2023

BLOG TOUR - Her Last Tear

  


DESCRIPTION:


Color explodes in the night sky, every boom and spray of lights getting louder cheers from the happy crowd. But two little girls are hiding in fear. “I want my mommy,” Abby whispers. A tear falls down her cheek as she clutches her sister’s hand and darkness finally falls…

When six-year-old 
Abby and nine-year-old Thea are snatched from a crowd at a fireworks display, Detective Nikki Hunt is determined to return the sweet sisters, with golden curls and laughing smiles, to their desperate mother Britney. The last person to see them alive witnessed the girls being led towards the docks by someone they seemed to know.

As Nikki begins her interviews, she’s shocked to learn that 
Britney has a dark secret. Ten years ago she ran away from Thea’s biological father, a man Britney claims was controlling and dangerous. Certain he must have taken the girls, Nikki urges the state troopers in nearby Thief River Falls to search the isolated ranch where he lives. But he is devastated to hear the girls are missing, and had no idea that Thea was even his daughter…

Then a witness comes forward claiming they saw a young boy clutching Thea’s little pink backpack at the fireworks. Nikki knows he’s the key to finding the girls alive, but she has no idea that someone on her team will do anything to keep his identity a secret. Unable to trust those closest to her, 
can Nikki unravel the truth and save Thea and Abby before their innocent lives are lost?

An absolutely gripping and totally addictive thriller from USA Today bestseller Stacy Green that will keep you racing through the pages all night long. Fans of Lisa Regan, Rachel Caine and Melinda Leigh will devour this thriller in one sitting!


BUY LINKS:

Author:  Stacy Green
Series:  Nikki Green #7
Publisher:  Bookouture 
Genre:   Mystery & Thrillers 
Format:  Kindle ARC
No. of Pages:   285
Date of Publication:   July 25, 2023
My Rating:   5 Stars

Special Agent Nikki Hunt goes over and above to locate Abby and Thea, six and nine years of age, with hopes of returning them to their mother. Nikki is under a time crunch as one of the girls is a type one diabetic. 

This intense story hit the ground running. My heart was broken time and again. Pure evil is at play and it is up to Nikki and her partner to unravel a tangled web involving a dangerous cult. Young girls are forced to marry and bear children. Nikki and her team know they must find out what happened to the girls. 

Tension never lets up in this book, and it is heartbreaking at times. For a story that will place you at the end of your seat and leave you breathless, look no further. Her Last Tear fits the bill. 

Many thanks to Bookouture and to NetGalley for this ARC for review. This is my honest opinion.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Stacy Green is a USA Today best-selling author of more than a dozen mysteries and thrillers. Her books include the award-winning Lucy Kendall series, the Cage Foster series, and the USA Today best-selling Nikki Hunt series. Stacy has bachelor’s degrees in Journalism/Mass Communication and Sociology from Drake University. She’s a member of Sisters in Crime, International Thriller Writers, and Mystery Writers of America.

Stacy lives in Iowa with her husband, daughter, and fur babies. 

Social Media:  


Monday, July 17, 2023

BLOG TOUR - Women of the Post

 


DESCRIPTION:

For fans of A League of Their Own, a debut historical novel that gives voice to the pioneering Black women of the of the Six Triple Eight Battalion who made history by sorting over one million pieces of mail overseas for the US Army.


  “What a beautifully imagined and important narrative. Sanders’ clear-eyed and powerful writing made this a hard one to stop reading!”

—Jacqueline Woodson, National Book Award-Winning Author


"This is a novel to cherish and share. And this is a history to sing about and affirm -- to proclaim.”

— HonorĂ©e Fanonne Jeffers, New York Times Bestselling author of The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois, an Oprah Book Club Novel


Inspired by true events, Women of the Post brings to life the heroines who proudly served in the all-Black battalion of the Women’s Army Corps in WWII, finding purpose in their mission and lifelong friendship.


1944, New York City. Judy Washington is tired of having to work at the Bronx Slave Market, cleaning white women’s houses for next to nothing. She dreams of a bigger life, but with her husband fighting overseas, it’s up to her and her mother to earn enough for food and rent. When she’s recruited to join the Women’s Army Corps—offering a steady paycheck and the chance to see the world—Judy jumps at the opportunity.


During training, Judy becomes fast friends with the other women in her unit—Stacy, Bernadette and Mary Alyce—who all come from different cities and circumstances. Under Second Officer Charity Adams's leadership, they receive orders to sort over one million pieces of mail in England, becoming the only unit of Black women to serve overseas during WWII.


The women work diligently, knowing that they're reuniting soldiers with their loved ones through their letters. However, their work becomes personal when Mary Alyce discovers a backlogged letter addressed to Judy. Told through the alternating perspectives of Judy, Charity and Mary Alyce, Women of the Post is an unforgettable story of perseverance, female friendship and self-discovery.


BUY LINKS:
MY THOUGHTS:
 
Title:   Women of the Post
Author:  Joshunda Sanders
Publisher:   Park Row
Genre:  Historical Fiction 
Format:  Kindle ARC
No. of Pages:   368
Date of Publication:   July 18, 2023
My Rating:   5 Stars 

“Clearly, they would not defy the God of their bigotry, even abroad.”

“Allowed but maybe not welcome.”

Women were needed during World War II, and thus the Six Triple Eight Battalion was formed. Coming from different backgrounds, including the Bronx Slave Market, something I had never heard of prior to reading this book, women were joining the Army. The Black women in this story were Judy Washington, Charity Adams and Mary Alyce, among others. These Black women, and many others, joined the Women’s Army Corps (WAC). From making maybe $.50 for eight hours of work to $50 a month was a great opportunity.

Judy joined with hopes of growing closer with hopes of finding her husband, who had also joined the Army, and whom she has not heard from for quite some time. The other women had their reasons for joining. Mary Alyce’s story was quite compelling, because it wasn’t until joining the WAC that she saw her birth certificate for the first time, and she found herself segregated with the Black women that had joined. All her life, she thought she was white and having never met her father there was a huge piece of her life that she was unaware of. This gave her problems, but also a new perspective while she served in the military. There were also Bernadette and Stacy and the book shows how these women fared during their service. 

I found this book to be quite compelling, and I love that it was told from the points of view of Judy, Charity and Mary Alyce. This made this story even more captivating. These women were very strong and faced many challenges, and the work that they did was very important, even though they served in the background. Not only was this an excellent book, but Joshunda Sanders also did extensive research in order to write this fabulous book.   

Many thanks to Park Row and to NetGalley for this ARC for review. This is my honest opinion.


Please enjoy the following excerpt:
Prologue

ELOISE

Germany

October, 1944

Perhaps at first glance, we might have looked like ordinary passengers: four women in civilian clothes, sitting in pairs facing one another, the private carriage of the passenger train illuminated by the golden light of a cloudless late-summer sunrise. Only upon closer inspection would a passerby have seen the handcuffs that secured us, our wrists resting at our sides, between us not because we meant to hide them but because we were exhausted, and they were too heavy to rest on our bony thighs. Only at a second glance would they have noticed the emaciated frames or the clothes that didn’t quite fit, or the scars and healing wounds each of us bore after months of torture and imprisonment.

I was handcuffed to a petite woman I knew first as Chloe, although in recent weeks, we had finally shared our real names with one another. It was entirely possible that she was the best friend I’d ever known—not that there was much competition for that title, given friendship had never come easy to me. Two British women, Mary and Wendy, sat opposite us. They had trained together, as Chloe and I had trained together, and like us, they had been “lucky enough” to recently find themselves imprisoned together too. Mary and Wendy appeared just as shell-shocked as Chloe and I were by the events of that morning.

As our captors had reminded us often since our arrests, we were plainclothes assassins and as such, not even entitled to the basic protections of the Geneva Convention. So why on earth had we been allowed the luxury of a shower that morning, and why had we been given clean civilian clothes to wear after months in the filthy outfits we’d been wearing since our capture? Why were they transporting us by passenger train, and in a luxurious private carriage, no less? This wasn’t my first time transferring between prisons since my capture. I knew from bitter personal experience that the usual travel arrangement was, at best, the crowded, stuffy back end of a covered truck or at worst, a putrid, overcrowded boxcar.

But this carriage was modern and spacious, comfortable and relaxed. The leather seats were soft beneath me and the air was clean and light in a way I’d forgotten air should be after months confined to filthy cells.

“This could be a good sign,” I whispered suddenly. Chloe eyed me warily, but my optimism was picking up steam now, and I turned to face her as I thought aloud. “I bet Baker Street has negotiated better conditions for us! Maybe this transfer is a step toward our release. Maybe that’s why…” I nodded toward our only companions in the carriage, seated on the other side of the aisle. “Maybe that’s why she’s here. Could it be that she’s been told to keep us safe and comfortable?”

Chloe and I had had little to do with the secretary at Karlsruhe Prison, but I had seen her in the hallway outside of our cell many times, always scurrying after the terrifyingly hostile warden. It made little sense for a secretary to accompany us on a transfer, but there she was, dressed in her typical tweed suit, her blond hair constrained in a thick bun at the back of her skull. The secretary sat facing against the direction of travel, opposite the two armed guards who earlier had marched me and Chloe onto the covered truck at the prison, then from the covered truck onto the platform to join the train. The men had not introduced themselves, but like all agents with the British Special Operations Executive, I’d spent weeks memorizing German uniforms and insignias. I knew at a glance that these were low-ranking Sicherheitsdienst officers—members of the SD. The Nazi intelligence agency. The secretary spoke to the guards, her voice low but her tone playful. She held a suitcase on her lap, and she winked as she tapped it. The men both brightened, surprised smiles transforming their stern expressions, then she theatrically popped the suitcase lid to reveal a shockingly generous bounty of thick slices of sausages and chunks of cheese, a large loaf of sliced rye bread and…was that butter? The scent of the food flooded the carriage as the secretary and the guards used the suitcase as a table for their breakfast.

It was far too much food for three people but I knew they’d never share it with us. My stomach rumbled violently, but after months surviving on scant prison rations, I was desperate enough that I felt lucky to be in the mere presence of such a feast. “I heard the announcement as we came onto the carriage— this train goes to Strasbourg, doesn’t it? Do you have any idea what’s waiting for us there? This is all a bit…” Wendy paused, gnawing her lip anxiously. “None of it makes sense. Why are they treating us so well?”

“This is the Strasbourg train,” Chloe confirmed cautiously. There was a subtle undertone to those words—something hesitant, concerned. I frowned, watching her closely, but just then the secretary leaned toward the aisle. She spoke to us in rapid German and pointed to the suitcase in her lap.

Had we done something wrong? More German words but it may as well have been Latin to me, because I spoke only French and English. Just then, the secretary huffed impatiently and pushed the suitcase onto the empty seat beside her as she stood. She held a plate toward me, and when I stared at it blankly, she waved impatiently toward Chloe and spoke again in German.

“What…”

“She wants you to take it,” Chloe translated for me, and I took the plate with my one free hand, bewildered. Chloe passed it to Wendy, and so on, until we all held plates in our hands. The secretary then passed us fat slices of sausage and cheese and several slices of bread each. Soon, our plates were filled with the food, each of us holding a meal likely more plentiful than we’d experienced since our arrival in France. “She’s toying with us,” Mary whispered urgently. “She’ll take it back. She won’t let us eat it so don’t get your hopes up.”

I nodded subtly—I’d assumed the same. And so, I tried to ignore the treasure sitting right beneath my nose. I tried not to notice how garlicky and rich that sausage smelled, how creamy the cheese looked, or how the butter was so thick on the bread that it might also have been cheese. I told myself the increasing pangs in my stomach were just part of the torture and the smartest thing I could do was to ignore them altogether, but the longer I held the plate, the harder it was to refocus my mind on anything but the pain in my stomach and the feast in my hands that would bring instant and lasting relief.

When all the remaining food had been divided between us prisoners, the secretary waved impatiently toward the plates on our laps, then motioned toward her mouth. “Eat!” she said, in impatient but heavily accented English.

Chloe and I exchanged shocked glances. Conditions in Karlsruhe Prison were not the worst we’d seen since our respective captures, but even so, we’d been hungry for so long. The starvation was worse for Chloe than me. She had a particularly sensitive constitution and ate a narrow range of foods in order to avoid gastric distress. Since our reunion at the prison, we’d developed a system of sharing our rations so she could avoid the foods which made her ill but even so, she remained so thin I had sometimes worried I’d wake up one morning to find she’d died in her sleep.

“What can you eat?” I asked her urgently.

She looked at our plates then blurted, “Sausage. I’ll eat the sausage.”

For the next ten minutes we prisoners fell into silence except for the occasional, muffled moan of pleasure and relief as we devoured the food. I was trying to find the perfect compromise between shoving it all into my mouth as fast as I could in case the secretary changed her mind and savoring every bite with the respect a meal like that commanded. By the time my plate was empty and my surroundings came back to me, the guards and the secretary were having a lovely time, laughing amongst themselves and chatting as if they didn’t have a care in the world.

For a long while, we prisoners traveled in silence, holding our plates on our laps at first, then after Wendy set the precedent, lifting them to our mouths to lick them clean. Still, the guards chatted and laughed and if I judged their tones correctly, even flirted with the secretary? It gradually dawned on me that they were paying us very little attention.

“How far is Strasbourg? Does anyone know?” I asked. Wendy and Mary shook their heads as they shrugged, but Chloe informed me it was hundreds of miles. Her shoulders had slumped again despite the gift of the food, and I nudged her gently and offered a soft smile. “We have a long journey ahead. Good. That means we have time for a pleasant chat while our bellies are full.”

By unspoken agreement, we didn’t discuss our work with the Special Operations Executive (SOE). It was obvious to me that each of the other women had been badly beaten at some point—Wendy was missing a front tooth, Mary held her left hand at an odd angle as if a fractured wrist had healed badly, and Chloe… God, even if she hadn’t explained to me already, I’d have known just looking at her that Chloe had been to hell and back. It seemed safe to assume we had all been interrogated literally almost to death at some point, but there was still too much at stake to risk giving away anything the Germans had not gleaned from us already. So instead of talking about our work or our peculiar circumstances on that train, we talked as though we weren’t wearing handcuffs. As though we weren’t on our way to, at the very best, some slightly less horrific form of imprisonment.

We acted as though we were two sets of friends on a casual jaunt through the countryside. We talked about interesting features outside our window—the lush green trees in the tall forests, the cultivated patches of farmland, the charming facades of cottages and apartments on the streets outside. Mary cooed over a group of adorable children walking to school, and Wendy talked about little shops we passed in the picturesque villages. Chloe shared longing descriptions of the foods she missed the most—fresh fruit and crisp vegetables, eggs cooked all manner of ways, herbs and spices and salt. I lamented my various aches and pains and soon everyone joined in and we talked as if we were elderly people reflecting on the cruelty of aging, not four twenty-somethings who had been viciously, repeatedly beaten by hateful men.

I felt the warmth of the sunshine on my face through the window of the carriage and closed my eyes, reveling in the simple pleasures of fresh air and warm skin and the company of the best friend I’d ever known. I even let myself think about the secretary and that picnic, and feel the relief that I was, for the first time in months, in the company of a stranger who had shown kindness toward me. I’d almost forgotten that was something people did for one another.

I’d never been an especially cheerful sort of woman and I’d never been an optimist, but those past months had forced me to stare long and hard at the worst aspects of the human condition and I’d come to accept a certain hopelessness even when it came to my own future. But on that train, bathed in early morning sunlight and basking in a full stomach and pleasant company, my spirits lifted until they soared toward something like hope.

For the first time in months, I even let myself dream that I’d survive to embrace my son Hughie again. Maybe, even after all I’d seen and done, the world could still be good. Maybe, even after everything, I could find reason to have faith.

Excerpted from The Paris Agent by Kelly Rimmer, Copyright © 2023 by Lantana Management PTY Ltd. Published by Graydon House Books.    


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Joshunda Sanders is an award-winning author, journalist and speechwriter. A former Obama Administration political appointee, her fiction, essays and poetry have appeared in dozens of anthologies. She has been awarded residencies and fellowships at Hedgebrook, Lambda Literary, The Key West Literary Seminars and the Martha's Vineyard Institute for Creative Writing. Women of the Post is her first novel.


SOCIAL LINKS:

Author website: https://joshundasanders.com/ 

Twitter: https://twitter.com/JoshundaSanders